Project Director: John Morris, Ph.D. (Shepherd Center).
The purpose of the App Factory is to develop assistive and accessible mobile apps for handheld and wearable platforms for consumers with a range of disabilities, goals (e.g., employment, education, entertainment, health, etc.) and uses. Specifically the project will: (1) Identify, develop, validate and test, and publish (transfer) assistive and accessibility solutions for mainstream mobile platforms in the form of mobile apps. (2) Build a database of mobile app developers working in the area of assistive and accessible technology for dissemination of annual call for proposals; and build relationships with developers and companies working with wireless technologies to transfer knowledge of App Factory outputs. (3) Track use and impact of App Factory products via app store download data (installs, uninstalls, average monthly users, average monthly use) and via user reviews and follow up interviews with users.
Sophisticated wirelessly connected devices have proliferated in recent years with 92% of the U.S population owning a cellphone or smart phone (L. Rainie, & Zickuhr, 2015) and the vast majority across major demographic categories (age, income, race and ethnicity) owning a smartphone or tablet (Pew Internet, 2014a). People with disabilities also report wide adoption of smart mobile technology (Morris, et al., 2014). Software applications for mobile devices (mobile apps) have evolved around each of the major operating systems, with each of the two dominant marketplaces (Apple App Store and Google Play store) now offering over 1 million mobile apps (Statista, 2015). Applications vary from extremely simple to very sophisticated. Many have utility to wireless customers such as text-to-speech and speech recognition applications which are often useful to both visually-impaired users and users with limited language skills. The integration of mobile information, communications, and monitoring with sensors, actuators and controllers in appliances and physical structures at home and in public spaces will result in a more fully formed “Internet of Things,” (IoT) that provides immense opportunity but also challenges to people with disabilities (Pew Internet, 2014; Jankowski, et al., 2014; Meeker, 2014). Native and third party mobile apps have been developed to promote the accessibility and utility of wireless devices and services for people with disabilities, including for those with limitations in vision, hearing, dexterity and upper extremity control, speech, and cognitive abilities. These efforts have focused mainly on smartphones and tablets, with growing interest in wearables such as Google Glass (e.g., Gips, et al., 2015; Wallace & Morris, 2015), smart watches and other wrist-worn monitors (e.g., Fardount, & Castillo, 2015; Ahanathapillai, et al., 2015; Bhatlawande, et al., 2014). The App Factory represents a valuable component of development and distribution of mobile apps to enhance the quality of life for people with disabilities against the backdrop of increasingly rapid development cycles in mainstream consumer technology.
The App Factory relies on short development cycles (1 year, coinciding with each grant year). Those awarded funding for their app must address the accessibility or assistive technology need, evaluation of existing apps that might at least partly serve this need, technical feasibility, technical capacity of the development team, and market assessment in the likelihood that the app would be produced by mainstream developers. Because the market is often small and less profitable for most of the apps people with disabilities need, priority will be given to those unrealized opportunities for assistive or accessibility apps. App Factory awardees must include beta testing with members of the target user group. Developers must describe the process by which these target users will be recruited (local networks of people in the target group, national recruiting, etc.), collect usability data and other feedback, and incorporate these data into the final product design.